It was a tough 2021 campaign for the Panthers, who started out the season on a three-game winning streak only to see it all crumble once star running back Christian McCaffrey got injured early in the year. Former second overall pick Sam Darnold was acquired from the Jets in the offseason, a move that left Carolina without its 2022 second and fourth round picks in exchange for an inconsistent young quarterback. Darnold then played arguably the worst football of his career, leading the team to a 5-12 record and even getting benched against the Giants. Now, with questions at the game’s most important position and limited draft capital, Carolina is one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams. While it’s hard to guess what they will do, here’s what they should do in the upcoming draft, including trades.
Who Should the Carolina Panthers Draft in 2022?
Round 1, Pick 17: Nakobe Dean, LB – Georgia
TRADE with Chargers: LAC gets #6, CAR gets #17, 79, 160, 195, and 2023 2nd
With most teams stashing assets for the quarterback-rich class of 2023, the Panthers shouldn’t expect a haul for the sixth pick. Still, it’s worth it for a team that needs to address multiple positions with limited resources, so they should trade out of their top pick for multiple other valuable selections. With their lower first round pick (in this case from the Chargers), they should start their draft with Nakobe Dean. Dean was a key contributor for the national champion Bulldogs, wreaking havoc on offenses primarily due to his exceptional quickness. Although his 5’11″, 240-pound size isn’t ideal in the eyes of most scouts, training at an NFL level should do wonders for Dean. While he may be falling on some draft boards, this is a no-brainer pick for the Panthers. Dean’s three-down playmaking skills make him a natural successor to Luke Kuechly at linebacker, giving Carolina a young playmaker on all three levels of their defense.
Round 3, Pick 79: Max Mitchell, T – Louisiana
Plenty of Panther fans will be begging for them to stay put at sixth overall and grab one of the draft’s highest-rated tackles to address a woeful offensive line. In this scenario, the front office instead opts to move back and hope a quality starter slips to them in the third round; given the overall depth of this offensive line class, it’s an unpopular but logical decision for the team to make. Max Mitchell was PFF’s highest-rated tackle in all of college football last season, spending most of the year on the right side. In over 1,000 total snaps at the college level, Mitchell surrendered just five sacks, albeit primarily against non-Power 5 competition. Carolina’s current projected starter at right tackle, according to ESPN, is journeyman Cameron Erving, although 2021 third-rounder Brady Christensen is certainly in the mix. With solid left tackle Taylor Moton already on board, the Panthers can use training camp to determine if Mitchell is a day-one starter. Even if he isn’t, this is a player who has shown improvement all four years he spent at Louisiana. If his career trajectory continues, Mitchell can be an o-line mainstay for the next decade in Carolina.
Round 3, Pick 89: Marquis Hayes, G – Oklahoma
TRADE with Bills: CAR gets #89 and 130, BUF gets #149, 160 and 2023 3rd and 6th
The offensive line rebuild continues, as the Panthers utilize some of their newly-acquired draft capital to get back into the third round. In addition to getting a new tackle, Carolina could also use some help on their line’s interior. Even with the additions of Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett in free agency, current starting guard Pat Elflein was unimpressive last season, and the team should be open to an upgrade. Marquis Hayes spent three years as a starter at guard for Oklahoma, arguably the best offense in college football during his time on campus. What makes Hayes a force is his upper body strength, which he uses to overpower defensive linemen. While his athleticism isn’t elite, Hayes comes from a program that consistently produces quality offensive linemen at the next level. If he and Mitchell can come in and win starting jobs in training camp, the Panthers may finally have a functional offensive line.